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Newsprint joins the internet of things

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Lots of people are trying to bridge the divide between paper and the internet. Some efforts include augmented-reality playthings that enliven pages and QR codes that introduce hyperlinks to print, while many expect e-readers will evolve in to flexible, hi-res, connected digital “paper.”

But what if the printed word could become digital today? That’s what a project called Interactive Newsprint is promising.

An eight-year-old Cambridge, UK, company called Novalia, working with the Universities of Central Lancashire, Dundee and Surrey, is deploying its electronics-enabled paper concept toward newspapers.

A demo edition of Johnston Press’ Lancashire Evening Post includes printed “buttons” that, when pressed, play audio readings of stories; plus Facebook likes, story ratings and votes.

“This is going to send a lifeline to the print element of the news industry by being able to connect a sheet of paper to the internet,” says University of Central Lancashire journalism school researcher Paul Egglestone.

“Being able to place the paper in the middle of the internet of things opens up a whole new ballpark of the ways that we can tell stories and collect data — who’s holding the paper, how are they interacting?”

The technology works with conductive inks that enable capacative touch, but full details are sketchy.

Project participants also say the technology can be used to print interactive advertisements. Interactive Newsprint collects click counts and engagement time for publishers and marketers to analyse.

Dundee University product design researcher Jon Rogers says: “For pretty much the first time, in a scaleable and manufacturable way, we’re going to connect the internet to paper. When you start to connect that to news, we’re in a goldmine zone.”

The idea could also be used for interactive restaurant menus or posters.

Escalating costs for regular newsprint is one reason for structural pressures in news publishing today. Whether newspapers adopt electronics-enabled paper that would likely be even more expensive remains to be seen.

The technology may be especially useful to magazine publishers, which have long sought to print display ads that are as engaging as possible.

11 Responses to “Newsprint joins the internet of things”

  1. Well…the thought is the right direction. But a lot of Operational glitches need to be resolved. One cannot say its not do-able… surely can. Every thought has a journey and an end. Hope this thought and effort meet its fruitful end.


    I will spend more time with any newspaper than any online publication. I have a short attention span for what I can’t see at any one time online and usually spend less than a minute. On the otherhand, after a newspaper has long been trashed, I can still search for online articles, in some cases, years old. I think publications would do well to do some experimentation with blending the two versions and asking for reader preferences and comments. Hard copies available at Wegmans Food Markets?

  3. Ant Denny

    Really? PlasticLogic and others are bypassing that. All the above suggests is a desperate clinging to the newsprint wreckage. As Henry Ford put it: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.”

  4. Just forget that daily newspapers have no business model. They have no customers because their product sucks because they lost their advertising because they have no clue how to compete because they’re run by old journalists, not business people. So, the solution isn’t magic paper. It’s a business model that’s sustainable.

    • misandryeverywhere

      @d: that’s a great way of dismissing an entire industry without using any facts or common sense – well done!

      Every print publisher has a business model, and dedicated, professional commercial staff. It’s just a declining industry where some models (and staff) are better than others – so please rein in the polemic, will you?

      “They have no customers” – bullcrap. Have you seen how many millions of people buy a daily newspaper? I bet you still have some papers around your house, right? And when was the last time you got on a train and were given a free tablet? They DO have customers.

      “…their product sucks” – wtf? Having an opinion is one thing, but to wrap up all global print journalism into one dismissive phrase is just laziness and petulance. How old are you? My 13-year-old gives more reasoned arguments than this.

      Sustainable business model? The Times has been charging for its online content for about a year. It bottomed out early on (competing with world-renowned free content) but it’s now growing. And they tied all of the promotions to iPad releases giving Apple’s product equal editorial and advertising space. Not exactly high-integrity journalism, but that’s exactly the kind of print + digital business model you’re saying doesn’t exist.

      Print will never die.

      And you’re a pissant.

    • Olav Bergo

      What daily newspaper(s) do you read? Your remarks indicate that you ought to evaluate another daily newspaper. Hopefully, you are aware that it’s more than one daily newspaper in the world?

  5. Right now, print media companies (especially those that own more than one publication) could easily give you a tablet (OEM, custom made in China) if you agree to pay for a three year subscription (using that as an example – and paying the proper price not the ridiculous journalist starving prices on the little insert sub cards). Handle it like cell phone carriers do.

    Pay 150 and you get the cheapest kindle, or clone, and unlimited access to whatever Time prints. Tribune could do the same. You get the idea.

    Some brands could technically do it on their own, say the Economist (and their Intelligent Life side mag).

    And by the way, assuming you don’t try to BS anybody, you will be saving in printing, paper, distro, etc.

    We are at a point when it’s not even a matter of churning out good journalism profitably vs the beancounters. It’s that the beancounters won but they blow at running the thing efficiently once that they’re in control; add to that scores of braindead marketing departments.

  6. The idea of little, RFID-based, printable, touch-capacitive circuits all connected to an internet-connected spine inside a book or magazine is not a novel idea.

    This idea is not NEW.

    We don’t need people to ‘imagine’ for us how such a thing might work. We’ve already imagined the concept. These people need to can the enthusiasm, and go produce such a technology cheaply and make it available for mass printing.

    Can they do this? Are they even working on this?

    Their silly videos leave this totally unclear.

    If all these people have is enthusiasm for touch-capacitive, RFID-based, mass-producable, printable circuitry and internet-connected book spines, then they are just wasting everyone’s time.